Liverpool’s problems go beyond Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers had three aims at start of season and now looks like missing all of them

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool look set to finish the season outside of the top four and without silverware. Photograph: Epa

Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool look set to finish the season outside of the top four and without silverware. Photograph: Epa

 

Losing “is all part of the journey of being a winner”, said Brendan Rodgers on Friday when he cited Phil Mickelson’s history at the Masters as golf’s equivalent of the task confronting Liverpool. It took Mickelson 13 years to get his hands on a green jacket. After his team suffered another case of the yips in the FA Cup semi-final against Aston Villa the journey ahead of Rodgers appears similarly exhausting.

All semi-final defeats prompt demoralised self-analysis but Wembley exposed an alarming number of underlying faults at Liverpool. Mentality, ability and strategy are all under scrutiny after a performance as anaemic as Villa’s was vibrant. Rodgers accepted Liverpool’s nerve and big-game attitude were open to question by volunteering that the “occasion and the energy got to us a bit”.

Liverpool’s latest big-game freeze reflected poorly on Rodgers’s motivational powers, as well as on his celebrated tactical acumen.

Last season’s collapse in the title race, falling short in several key games this season in Europe and the Premier League and now an FA Cup semi-final that sent supporters heading for the exits long before the final whistle; a reputation as nearly-men is taking root.

Bamboozled Then there was the confusion

caused by Rodgers’s tactics at Wembley. Three different formations, the first change after 25 minutes, the introduction of the previously maligned Mario Balotelli at half-time and no answer to Tim Sherwood’s decision to deploy two No10s against Liverpool’s defence and target their right flank through Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Jack Grealish.

Rodgers was lauded for his tactical prowess on the eve of Manchester United’s visit to Anfield on March 22nd. Four weeks on he was “bamboozled” – as Sherwood put it – by a manager in the embryonic stage of his career. The extremes are perfectly in keeping with Liverpool’s season.

The stance of the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group, remains the same today as in November when the Liverpool manager admitted his job would be on the line without the dramatic upturn in results and performances he subsequently oversaw.

He was FSG’s man for their long-term strategy of developing a young team then, he is now and he is expected to be in charge next season despite the enticing availability of Jürgen Klopp.

Klopp was high on John W Henry’s wish-list to replace Kenny Dalglish as manager in 2012 but was then committed to Borussia Dortmund. That will not be the case this summer, yet there appears no immediate threat to Rodgers’s position. There will be increased pressure to bring last summer’s investment policy to fruition next season, however, following a third year without a trophy as Liverpool manager.

Rodgers’s stated aims for this campaign were silverware, a top-four finish and progress into the knockout phase of the Champions League. Unless Manchester City are overhauled in the race for fourth place, and Manuel Pellegrini’s team are seven points clear having played one game more, Liverpool will have fallen short on all three fronts.

The manager’s claims of having made genuine progress with his young team will lack substance although the faults exposed at Wembley extend beyond the man from Carnlough.

Pay strategy

Nevertheless the rewards available at Anfield far exceed what Villa were able to pay to keep Sunday’s man of the match, Fabian Delph, at the club. Liverpool’s semi-final display merely strengthened the suspicion that too many contractual disputes have caused a loss of focus.

Rodgers’s problems for the semi-final began before Liverpool had even reached London with Daniel Sturridge once again ruled out, this time having failed to recover from a hip injury.

To put it bluntly, the Liverpool manager no longer has one he can trust. Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert are expected to leave in the summer – if they agree to go, that is – and Sturridge has reached the stage where a team cannot be built around his unreliable talents.

The 25-year-old has featured in only 35 per cent of Liverpool’s matches this season, 18 of 52, and his poor injury record is nothing new.

The entire attack requires rebuilding this summer on top of the need to entice a top-class central midfielder to a club that may be without Champions League football.

Rodgers must have a clear appreciation today of how Mickelson felt at Augusta until 2004.

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